Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
[‘To Autumn’ by John Keats, poet and Hampstead resident]
St. John’s Lodge Gardens, Regent’s Park
An extension of the lodge that was completed back in 1819, these grounds had an unceremonious layout until 1888 when its owner the 3rd Marquess of Bute enlisted Robert Weir Shultz to design “a garden fit for meditation”. From within the structural scalloped hedges do creepers run riot and where closeted seating areas allow ones mind to run in leaps and bounds. Situated along Regent’s Park Inner Circle between Chester Road and the Open Air Theatre, it is open daily to the general public and probably the only public space to encourage feet on seats.
Regent’s Park Rose Garden Island
My back yard as a child. I’ve always thought of the Regent’s Park, and especially the Rose Garden’s Island as ‘my garden’. I have never really wanted to share the knowledge with a single person and a little bit of me is still today a touch tight-lipped in indulging this scoop. Everything about this island is both Japanese and bijou. The paths are barely big enough for children, let alone adults, but marvelling at the rockery and navigating the stepping stones is as much a joy as it ever was. Situated in Queen Mary’s Garden to the right side of the Jubilee Gates, it is open Monday to Friday.
Culpeper Community Garden, Islington
Named after the 17th century herbalist and Islington resident, this land has been metamorphosed by the local community since 1982 to provide a space to illuminate and encourage children to grow and be responsible for plants and vegetables. This hidden oasis provides a space for the broad variety of locals to come together, nurture, chat, harvest and relax. Open every day.
Queen’s Wood, Highgate
Abutting the more popular Highgate wood, Queen’s Wood is 70 acres of blissfully undisturbed ancient oak-hornbeam woodland. A few minutes walk from Highgate tube station, once immersed you cannot fathom you are still in London. I even caught myself muttering, “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
Fenton House, Hampstead
A 17th century merchant’s house that has been part of the National Trust’s portfolio since 1952. Its large walled garden is home to exquisite topiary greenery, a working kitchen garden and a 300 year old orchard that harvests both apple juice and apple-blossom honey. The view from the top balcony offers not only a sneaky glimpse of Ridley Scott’s garden but also the most breathtaking panorama from possibly London’s highest vantage point. Open Wednesday to Sunday. Check here for entrance fees.
The Pergola & Hill Garden, Hampstead
Essentially a raised walkway overlooking breathtaking gardens, the Hampstead Pergola was constructed between 1905 and 1955 by Lord Leverhulme who visioned this Edwardian indulgence for garden parties and summer eventide walks. Saved from dereliction by London County Council and opened to the public in 1963 its faded splendor makes it an impossibly romantic utopia.
Hampstead Swimming Ponds
Outdoor swimming in London has never been so wild. And I mean that quite literally. Of all the open lidos and lakes in London, Hampstead’s are by far the most sizeable and secluded. These three freshwater swimming ponds (one female, one male and one mixed sex) are reinforced by the headwater springs of the River Fleet. Originally dug in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs these pools are popular throughout the year. The only word to describe it is ‘exhilerating’. Admission – £2.
Next time on London Insight: Secret Gardens of Central and East London